Ombuds’ corner: Virtue ethics and its applications

“Virtue ethics provides managers and business leaders with an opportunity to ask themselves what kind of people they become through their actions and how their decisions impact the lives of others. It gives them a chance to consider what kind of business environments and cultures they should build, how business goals, policies and procedures foster positive or negative learning in their employees and what kind of societies they contribute to developing through their operations and the products and services they offer.” (1)


During our work at CERN or in our institutes, we do not only produce deliverables and services, but we also develop abilities and competencies that shape our personalities. Not only do we transform the image of the Laboratory and the vision that people have about the physical world, but we also transform ourselves.

In the ancient Greek philosophy, the key to existence relied on the search for excellence, which was intimately mixed with virtue ethics in order to create a society where everyone could live in happiness. Virtue ethics puts a special emphasis on the development of human values and moral character. For example, virtue ethics can provide a tool for managers and leaders to understand their attitude towards others and their decision-making. Virtue ethics, and all its applications as described in the CERN Competency Model(2), can provide everyone with a tool to sincerely understand his capacities and behaviour, and improve them towards excellence.

Once a disciple asked his Zen master, “What is the essence of life?” The master answered: “To do good; avoid evil!” “Oh! It is so simple that even a three-year-old child could understand it.” The master then added: “Yes, probably, but even an old man cannot practise it.” There is of course some gap between understanding virtue and good ethics or the CERN Competency Model - all of them being somehow obvious to a human being - and practising them every day in the workplace, which requires good will, effort and awareness.

This is everyone’s responsibility: the pursuit of excellence, not only technical, but also when it comes to virtue, morals, ethical decision making and respect towards all of us in the same way.

Conclusion: Good ethics is part of the job for everyone!

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(1) “Editorial Introduction: Putting Virtues Into Practice. A Challenge for Business and Organizations”, by Joan Fontrodona, Alejo José G. Sison, Boudewijn de Bruin, in Journal of Business Ethics (2013) 113:563–565.

(2) CERN Competency Model:

As a reminder, all previous Ombuds corners can be accessed in the Ombuds blog.

by Vincent Vuillemin